"In July she was working at MacDonald's."

I am not sure which aspect of the past continuous applies in this case. Action in progress around a specific time = in July she was working there, we don't know when she started or finished or the temporary aspect = she didn't work there long, maybe a summer job. But the temporary aspect doesn't mean she worked there only for the month of July, does it? What do I say if I want to convey she only worked there for the month of July? She worked at MacDonald's in July?

2 Answers 2


The continuous tense is used to establish that some event continues relative to some other event. Sentences don't exist in a vacuum. There is context, and that context often defines the meaning. The single sentence in your example lacks this context, so we don't really know the specifics of when she started or ended her job.

It may not matter, if the focus is on some other event that occurred around the same time:

In July she was working at MacDonald's when the spaceship landed in the town square.

If the focus is on the time frame when she worked, and is not related to some other event, then there is no need to use the past continuous:

She worked at MacDonald's throughout July.

She worked at MacDonald's the entire month of July.

She worked at MacDonald's from the first of July through August that year.


You can't tell without more context which of the possible interpretations of the continuous aspect was intended. But it doesn't communicate that she was working there only for July - nor does your last example with the simple past.

She was working at MacDonalds during July

suggests that it was probably only July she worked there, but it doesn't have to mean that. To say that unequivocally I would probably say

She worked at MacDonalds for the month of July.

(for some reason "for July" doesn't sound right to me). Note that, without context, I find I prefer the simple past there, so I am treating her working as a complete event. But if I were going on to talk about something that happened during July, I might well say

She was working at MacDonalds for the month of July.

Doing so places the temporal focus within the month, so what happened at the end of the month was still in the future, so to some degree this is talking about her (and their) intention, whereas with the simple past it is looking back at it complete.

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